After Return of the Jedi was released, Star Wars went away for a bit. George Lucas' trilogy was complete, leaving fans with the hope that he would one day return to the franchise and do the Prequel Trilogy. As Star Wars slipped away from public interest, many of the young fans who saw the original films did as well...until Heir to the Empire.
The novel, celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, is often said to have revived the franchise, drawing fans back in with a story that began a thrilling trilogy of books. Timothy Zahn's series was viewed by many as the Sequel Trilogy to the originals before the Disney purchase, picking up the story of Luke, Han, and Leia as they look to rebuild the galaxy following the events of Episode VI. But, what the trilogy is most known for is its antagonist: Grand Admiral Thrawn.
The Chiss mastermind captivated readers and appeared in several novels after the Heir to the Empire trilogy was complete. Fans were devastated when Thrawn was purged from the EU as Lucasfilm and Disney sought to establish the new canon, but the Grand Admiral quickly returned to the story when he was re-introduced in Star Wars Rebels and several accompanying novels. Thrawn's fate was left uncertain at the culmination of the animated series, but his name has once again resurfaced in The Mandalorian - a surprise even to the character's creator...
Author Timothy Zahn has confirmed via Facebook that he was out of the loop on the namedrop of Grand Admiral Thrawn in The Mandalorian:
No, I was not holding back on you (or anyone else). I was (and am) completely out of the loop on all things Mandalorian. The first I heard about Ahsoka's name-dropping question was when people began peppering this page with comments, questions, and verbal high-fives.
So what will happen next? Your guesses are as good as mine. One thing I do know: Good writers/producers/directors don't drop a bombshell like that without some kind of follow-up somewhere down the line. I'll be sitting right there with all the rest of you, eagerly waiting to see how the saga unfolds.
Hopefully, it will be artistically done.
WHAT THIS MEANS
If Zahn wasn't briefed on Thrawn's forthcoming involvement in the live-action world, nobody was. Lucasfilm, under Disney, has long been known to be very secretive about projects in active development, and it seems as though Thrawn's role in the story to come is still in the early phases of being ironed out. When the time comes for the pen to hit the paper and write the continuation of the Grand Admiral's story, Timothy Zahn will undoubtedly be involved.
Dave Filoni has noted the importance of Thrawn and Heir to the Empire to the franchise many times in recent years, and the creator was eager to get the Chiss back into the fold in Rebels. At the time, Zahn was consulted for Thrawn's animation debut, and that will certainly be the case as the legendary antagonist makes the jump to live-action. The creative workings behind The Mandalorian have proven to be committed to getting every detail right, and Zahn's expertise will be needed as Thrawn is brought to life in whatever series he's planned for.
Keeping this reveal a secret from everyone isn't exactly a surprise. Zahn has said that he's not allowed to touch Thrawn's story at any point after Rebels until Filoni and his team pick it up in either animation or live-action, now. With Thrawn's return now imminent and Zahn's work on the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy of books well on its way to being finished, it won't be long until the author gets the green light to pick up the Grand Admiral's story after Return of the Jedi, just the way things started.